Want to Ensure Student Success? Ace Your Advising Skills Assessment

Funding-related factors and external mandates (including those coming from the federal level) place heightened demands for student success. One obvious measure of success is a college or university’s ability to retain students, moving them steadily and efficiently toward degree completion.

Critical to making that happen is student advising. Solid advising toward degree completion includes both high-level guidance about career path and ground-level, tactical advice about the programs and courses to take to get there.

A recent survey by higher education publication Academic Impressions confirms the need for a tighter and more thorough assessment of student advising. The goal is to actually improve advisor performance, thereby more effectively fostering student success. And, while the focus of the report’s conclusions is on advisor training, I would suggest that, even with improved training, advising will still fall short if advisors don’t have the most accurate, up-to-date information readily at hand.

I should know: Back in my faculty days, I used to be one of them. That was a while ago, but, even today, many institutions handle advising, as we did, in primarily a paper-based world.

Advisors are “armed” with a paper file folder for each student. If lucky, the folder has at least some version of the “truth” contained therein: a transcript from the institution at hand (hopefully, the most current version), perhaps transcripts from other institutions the student has attended (again, hopefully, the most recent versions) and, through some minor miracle, a reasonably legible collection of handwritten notes from previous advising sessions tracking progress and issues to date.

Perhaps there’s even a degree audit worksheet or report in there – again, hopefully, one that’s fairly recently been updated. And, with an even greater degree of luck, some verifiable evidence that certain transfer courses have either been accepted or are still under review, pending approval from some corner of the campus.

One sure way to tighten information management in support of top-notch advising is to let an enterprise content management (ECM) system handle it. But, I don’t mean a basic one — not a simple electronic filing cabinet into which incoming documents, such as applications, letters of recommendation, essays, test scores and the like, can be scanned and added to an advisee file. While that’s an essential first step, you’ll need more. To truly help drive more effective advising, your institution and your advisors need sophisticated tools that update and direct the timely flow of advisee-related information.

Those capabilities include quickly, accurately and automatically pulling line-level course and grade data from transfer transcripts and automatically feeding that data into the SIS (student information system) or degree audit system.

They also include the ability to search for existing course equivalencies for incoming transfer courses and the ability to automatically, electronically route and monitor (i.e., track the timely return of) exception courses requiring faculty review and approval. In the transfer credit arena, you’ll want the ECM system to automatically update the SIS or degree audit system with approved credits.

Why the automation? So, that, at any moment, the advisor knows exactly which courses are still ahead of the student in terms of completing the planned program or degree.

Additional automation tools should provide the ability to auto-assign advisors for new students or new majors, even allowing the ability to filter and match based on students’ particular demographic profiles, areas of interest and/or unique needs.

Putting the complete advisee file into the hands of the right advisor whenever needed – and having that file reflect the most accurate, up-to-date information stored in the systems of record (in this case, the SIS and/or degree audit system) – will go a long way toward making your institution a top performer when it comes to retaining more students as they make their way toward on-time graduations.

Tom von Gunden

Tom von Gunden directs Hyland’s market research, strategy and advisory initiatives in higher education. Tom holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and spent more than a dozen years in higher education, serving as a tenured university professor, program director and accreditation specialist. His deep understanding of best practices in deploying ECM (enterprise content management) capabilities comes not only from his direct involvement in system implementations in colleges and universities, but also from his prior work as chief editor of Web and print publications focused on ECM and data storage technologies.

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